This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Rev. Dr. Raymond Hylton,
FPCE senior pastor.

Dear friends,

First, I hope you are having a great week. 

And, next, I have a question for you: Do you ever wonder what happens to people when they die? 

As you might imagine, many views and ideas abound. Here are a few: 

1. They cease existing. Steve Jobs, while in the throes of fighting cancer, gave a commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. He said, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share.”

In one of his last meetings with his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs shared his thoughts about religion and death in an uncharacteristically humble way. Isaacson recalls:  

“I remember sitting in the back garden on a sunny day [on a day when] he was feeling bad, and he talked about whether or not he believed in an afterlife. He said, ‘Sometimes I’m 50-50 on whether there’s a God. It’s the great mystery we never quite know. But I like to believe there’s an afterlife. I like to believe the accumulated wisdom doesn’t just disappear when you die, but somehow it endures.” 

Jobs paused for a second, remembers Isaacson. 

“And then he says, ‘But maybe it’s just like an on/off switch and click — and you’re gone.’ And then he paused for another second and he smiled and said, ‘Maybe that’s why I didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices.’”  

2. They keep being reincarnated. In It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson, Willie recounts his time as a “popular” Sunday School teacher at Metropolitan Baptist Church — a popularity he attributed to his “openness in exploring spiritual issues”— an openness that led to his eventual dismissal. Willie’s dismissal from the church was an “opportunity to delve deeper in the mystery of the Holy Spirit. More than ever, I sought to learn about the Lord.”  

Willie wrote: “I was drawn to the idea that you keep coming back till you get it right. Reincarnation seemed merciful and completely Christ-like. Jesus got it right the first time around and was, after all, God incarnate, perfect man. But the rest of us would need several lifetimes to shed our sins and learn the lessons necessary to heal our troubled souls.”

3. They are absorbed into the wider world, into the wind and the trees. An anonymous poem that was left, in case of his death, by a soldier going to Northern Ireland expresses it well: “Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I do not die.”  

This poem sounds tantalizingly true. But is it? 

4. Resurrection of the body. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Being “citizens of heaven,” he doesn’t mean that we shall retire there when we have finished our work here. He says in the next line that Jesus will come from heaven in order to transform the present humble body into a glorious body like his own, and that he will do this by the power through which he makes all things subject to himself. The risen Jesus is both the model for the Christian’s future body and the means by which it comes about. 

This Sunday, I have the privilege of thinking with you about the importance of Isaiah 65:17-25. Please read and re-read these words as you prepare for worship — because what we believe about death and the coming reign of God has massive implications for how we live and engage with our broken world. More on this theme on Sunday. 

So let me know what you think of the question: What happens to us when we die? 

With more questions than answers, 

Pastor Raymond Hylton

© 2023 First Presbyterian Church of Evanston

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